As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

Oleg GordievskyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #780

Syrian rebel video of downed dronesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israeli Prime Minister rebukes President’s Iran comments. Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging rebuke to the country’s president, Shimon Peres, after he said that Israel should not act alone in launching military action against Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview on Israeli television, Peres said: “It is clear to us we cannot do it on our own. We can only delay [Iran's progress]. Thus it’s clear to us that we need to go together with America”. Officials from Netanyahu’s office were quoted in the Israeli media as saying: “Shimon Peres forgets what the role of the president of Israel is”. The row is a stark example of the sharp differences at the heart of Israel’s political, military and intelligence establishment over the merits and dangers of an early unilateral military strike on Iran.
►►Russian embassy in UK alleges attack by Syrian activists. Russia’s embassy in London accused British police on Friday of taking no action to prevent an attack on its building by a group of activists protesting Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It made the accusation as about 40 protesters clad in balaclavas demonstrated outside the embassy, located in an upscale part of London, against the verdict in a trial of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. An embassy spokesman said a group of protesters chanting anti-Assad slogans attacked the building overnight, throwing stones and smashing windows.
►►Syrian rebels put captured Iranian drones on YouTube. The opposition to Bashar al-Assad says it’s captured spy drones made by Assad’s patron, Iran. And it’s put the evidence on YouTube. In the video, Syrian rebels show off three smallish, unarmed surveillance drones they say they downed. The two larger drones appear to be variants of Iran’s homemade Ababil, or Swallow, surveillance aircraft. All three show signs of damage, with the tiny drone’s nose cone looking to have taken the worst, and alongside the drones are pamphlets displaying the face of the dead Iranian ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It’s yet more evidence that Iran considers Syria’s civil war to be a proxy contest with much at stake for their influence in the region.

Number of Russian spies in Britain ‘back at Cold War levels’

Russian embassy in LondonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Russian Federation has as many intelligence officers operating in the United Kingdom today as it did during the last decade of the Cold War, according to a British newspaper. The London-based Daily Telegraph cites “senior sources” in alleging that Moscow maintains “around 40 [spies] at any one time” in the UK. Many of them are reportedly based in London, where approximately half the staff at the Russian embassy are believed to be routinely involved in intelligence gathering, says the paper. The Telegraph shared the information with Dr Jonathan Eyal, Director of International Security Studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, who told the paper that the numbers of Russian spies in the UK are “similar to if not higher than those just before the end of the Cold War”. Undoubtedly, writes The Telegraph, some of the Russian intelligence officers stationed in Britain are involved in traditional intelligence collection directed at UK government institutions and personnel. But increasing numbers of them are focusing on the growing Russian expatriate community in the UK, including the many oligarchs whose relations with the Kremlin are strained at best. A smaller but significant number of Russian intelligence operatives are believed to conduct commercial and industrial spying aimed at benefiting Russian firms competing against their British counterparts for international contracts, claims the paper. Dr Eyal adds that Russian intelligence agencies have traditionally viewed Britain —a staunch American ally— as a “back door to US intelligence”, thus Washington constitutes yet another target of Russian intelligence activity in the UK. Read more of this post

Newspaper reveals name of Russian ‘spy’ expelled from Britain

Mikhail Repin

Mikhail Repin

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In December of 2010, the British government quietly ordered the expulsion of a diplomat from the Russian embassy in London, whom it accused of “activities incompatible with his diplomatic status” —technical terminology implying espionage. Moscow quickly responded with an expulsion of a British diplomat stationed in the Russian capital. The tit-for-tat incident saw no publicity, and neither man was named, as is customary in such cases. But, in its Saturday edition, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph identified the expelled Russian diplomat as Mikhail Viktorovich Repin, Third Secretary in the Political Section at the Russian embassy in London. The paper said that Repin, a fluent English speaker, was a junior officer of the political directorate of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, operating under standard diplomatic cover. Repin arrived in London in late 2007, shortly after the British government expelled four Russian diplomats in connection with the fatal poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who had defected to Britain. A “tall, suave, urbane young man”, “Michael”, as he identified himself, quickly became a permanent fixture on the embassy reception circuit and the various events hosted by London-based organizations and think tanks. He specifically joined —and regularly attended meetings of— the Royal United Services Institute, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and Chatham House —formerly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Most people that met him in those gatherings took him for “a fast-track civil servant, defense industry high flier or political adviser”, says The Telegraph. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #568

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

►►Lebanon intercepts covert arms shipment bound for Syria. It looks like anti-Syrian Lebanese groups, allied with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, are smuggling Kalashnikovs and M-16s across the border to anti-government rebels in Banyas and other Syrian towns. The question is, where are these arms coming from? It is also worth noting that the Syrian army claimed last week that it has detained hundreds of Salafi fighters –including Afghans– with Lebanese documents.
►►Russian embassy cars seen near murdered MI6 officer’s flat. British paper The Daily Mail quotes an unnamed “former KGB agent who fled to London 12 years ago”, who says that he “logged two cars with Russian diplomatic number plates [...] parked or driving close” to the central London apartment of MI6 and GCHQ officer Gareth Williams. The unnamed former agent says he noticed the vehicles around the time when Williams is believed to have been murdered in his apartment.
►►Indonesian intel reports on West Papua leaked. Hundreds of intelligence briefs from Indonesia’s elite special forces unit, Kopassus, have been obtained by Australian newspaper The Age. They include a detailed analysis of the separatist movement in oil-rich Western Papua. According to the Australian press, the reports “illustrate the level of paranoia in Jakarta about its hold over the resource-rich region”.

Some spy news in the shadow of WikiLeaks’ revelations

Katia Zatuliveter

Katia Zatuliveter

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The WikiLeaks revelations continue, and so does the global news storm concerning the whistleblower site. Obviously, the news value of the WikiLeaks disclosures is unquestionable. However, there are notable intelligence-related developments taking place outside the now-familiarWikiLeaks context. Take for instance the recent arrest of what appears to be a Polish spy in Limassol, Cyprus. The unidentified man, who was reportedly detained in the vicinity of a Greek-Cypriot military base on the island, was carrying “a camera containing photos of National Guard posts, a laptop, two mobile phones, five memory cards, a GPS system and three pairs of binoculars”. Another interesting development concerns the arrest on espionage charges of Katia Zatuliveter, a Russian citizen who works as an assistant to British Member of Parliament Mike Hancock. Zatuliveter is expected to be deported on the basis of evidence gathered by MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence service, which has apparently been monitoring her for several months. Interestingly, Mr. Hancock, who is a member of the British House of Commons’ Defence Select Committee, is standing by his assistant. Read more of this post

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